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Recipes: Cooking BC herring, sardines and anchovies

Schools of small pilchards are plentiful in coastal Canadian waters and when they are available fresh, from local fish mongers, it's time to try these recipes from BC chefs.


Every year in November, there’s a one-day herring sale organized by Finest At Sea to benefit the BC Children’s Hospital and help kids with cancer. Local fishermen volunteer to deliver thousands of pounds of herring, and chefs and consumers line up to buy buckets of them in Vancouver and Victoria, with 100% of the proceeds going to the charity.


CHEF ROB CLARK, The Fish Counter, Vancouver


Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program, serves the under-utilized but delicious BC anchovy, both pickled and broiled atop garlicky toasts with red onion and fennel salad. He says the challenge to chefs and consumers is to try local anchovies and sardines, quality local fish that’s prized around the world but not appreciated at home. Clark uses anchovies in this recipe, but you can substitute other small local fish like herring or sardines. The hardest (that is, most time consuming) part of this recipe is filleting the small fish but you can find great YouTube videos online to follow.

Fresh (or frozen and thawed) Pacific anchovies

Sea salt


1 Tbsp honey

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

½ tsp dried oregano

minced zest and juice of two lemons

1 cup olive oil

Fennel and Red Onion Slaw:

1 bulb fennel

1 small red onion

½ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp olive oil


Sliced baguette

Olive oil

Garlic cloves, halved

To prepare the anchovies, cut off the head and tail, cut the belly open with scissors, pull out the entrails and rinse under cold running water. Place the fish, flesh side down, on your work surface and press with your hand to flatten, pushing the entire backbone flat. Turn the fish over and pull the backbone out, from the tail end. Cut into two fillets and trim the edges along the belly to remove pin bones and create small, tidy fillets. Place the fillets in a shallow glass dish and sprinkle with sea salt. Refrigerate 30 minutes and drain any excess liquid (this step firms the flesh).

Whisk together the marinade ingredients and pour over the fish. Cover and refrigerate 24 hours.

To make the slaw, trim fennel bulb, halve lengthwise and cut into very thin slivers. Halve the onion and thinly slice. Combine in a bowl with salt and sugar and set aside 10 minutes. Drain, then mix with lemon juice and olive oil.

Drain the excess marinade from the anchovies. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet, skin side up. Preheat the broiler on high heat. Place the top oven rack about 4-6 inches below the broiler and broil the anchovies for 3-5 minutes, until just browned and crisp, and cooked through.

To make the toast, brush bread lightly with olive oil, arrange on a baking sheet and broil under the preheated broiler for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown. Rub each toast with raw garlic.

To assemble, top each toast with a little fennel slaw and an anchovy fillet.

CHEF FRANK PABST, Blue Water Café, Vancouver


Chef Frank Pabst shared this simple recipe for raw herring (a.k.a. sardines) in The Ocean Wise Cookbook 2, edited by Jane Mundy. You can replace the shiso with Thai basil and/or cilantro, and use a combination of orange and lemon juice in place of the yuzu, a fragrant Japanese citrus fruit. This preparation works well with fresh Albacore tuna, too.


4 shiso leaves, thinly sliced

4 green onions, thinly sliced

1 cup watercresss leaves

Ponzu Sauce:

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

1 Tbsp. yuzu juice

1-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely grated


2 Tbsp. sea salt

4 cups ice water

5 4-ounce very fresh herring fillets, skin removed

shredded daikon, for garnish

Toss the salad ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.

Combine the ponzu ingredients in a bowl.

Stir the salt into the ice water until dissolved, add the herring fillets and set aside for five minutes. Rinse in fresh water, drain well and pat dry with paper towels. Slice fillets into thin slivers and add to the bowl with the ponzu sauce.

Gently fold the fish and sauce into the salad.

Divide between four small bowls and serve, garnished with shredded daikon. Serves 4.

CHEF MARK FILATOW, Waterfront Restaurant, Kelowna


Chef Mark Filatow uses this method to preserve fresh sardines and herring. Lightly pickled and submerged, confit-style, in olive oil, the cured fish keeps for months in the refrigerator.

1 kg sardines, scaled, bones removed and heads off

1 cup rice flour

1 tablespoon ground fennel seed

1 medium fresh tomato, sliced thin

4 bay leaves

4 cloves garlic

12 peppercorns

1 ¼ cup red wine vinegar

¾ cup olive oil

kosher salt

Have your fish monger clean and de-bone the sardines. Otherwise, remove the head and lay flesh-side down on your work surface, press to flatten backbone, and then pull out the backbone from the tail end. Lay the sardines down, skin side up, flat in a glass container. Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt.

Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight (at least 12 hours), then remove the fish from the container and pat dry with paper towel.

Combine the ground fennel seed with the rice flour, and dredge the sardines in the mixture to coat.

Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet on medium heat. Sear the sardines, skin side down and then flip. Cook 30 seconds on each side side.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the vinegar with the bay leaves, garlic and peppercorns.

Transfer the sardines, as they are cooked, to a non-reactive container that will fit them all. Layer them, skin side up with the fresh tomatoes. Repeat until all the sardines are done.

Pour the hot vinegar over the sardines. Cover with the remaining olive oil. Add more oil if the sardines are not completely covered in a layer of oil.

Place covered in the refrigerator for at least a week.

To Serve:

Pull the sardines out as you need them.

They are great cold with bitter greens in a salad. Use the vinegar and oil from the container to dress the greens.

Also, great, broiled for 1 minute and served on crusty bread. Or just as is with hunks of bread.

Pair with Chilled Pilsner or a Snappy Dry White Wine.


In her seminal book on the subject, Tin Fish Gourmet, Barbara-Jo McIntosh digs deep into the art of cooking canned anchovies and sardines, from anchovy-stuffed dates wrapped in prosciutto and anchovy éclairs, to sardine and potato pancakes, or this simple roast of canned sardines and leeks.

2 leeks, white and pale green part, sliced

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

freshly ground pepper to taste

1 3.75-oz tin sardines, packed in mustard

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

zest of 1 lemon

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400˚F.

Slice leeks and place in a bowl of cold water to wash and remove any dirt.

In an oven-proof frying pan, heat the butter and oil over medium high heat. Lift leeks from water and into the pan. Stir and sauté for 3-5 minutes with a good grinding of pepper. Place pan in the oven and roast the leeks for 10 minutes. Add the whole sardines to the pan and toss gently with the leeks, being careful not to break up the sardines. Return the pan to the oven and roast for 3 minutes longer, to heat the sardines through. Remove from oven and sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve over toasted bread or mashed potatoes to absorb all of the tasty juices. Makes 1-2 servings as a small plate.


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